HIV – AIDS Awareness Caravan in Andhra Pradesh
By Vikas Verma
A month long UNICEF-supported awareness campaign AASHA (AIDS Awareness and Sustained Holistic Action) against HIV –AIDS has just concluded its first phase in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh is one of the worst AIDS affected states of India with twelve districts out of twenty-three showing a prevalence rate of over 2%.
The statistics of the whole campaign tell an amazing tale. Over a period of a month, thirty specially decorated vehicles raised the dust in twenty districts of the state covering around 35,000 kilometres across ten national highways. In the process this unique caravan covered about 242 towns and villages and touched 263,297 lives through 807 live demonstrations.
The campaign was supported by the public and government officials alike. The District Collectors, District Leprosy Officer, Mandal Development / Revenue Officers; Sarpanchs; Para Medical Officers/ Health Officers, Education Officers, local doctors, Principals of colleges and schools, health officials & hospital staff, NGO’s, and police officials lent their support to the caravan awareness campaign.
This was the result of a mammoth operation involving logistical planning as well as training of each of the ten caravan teams (consisting of three vehicles each). It involved a total of 188 people including 61 Song & Drama Division members, 24 NSS volunteers, 8 HIV positive people and 65 Promoters and 30 drivers.
The show would begin with a Kalajatha team’s powerful music and drama performance depicting the myths attached with HIV and AIDS. Encouraged by the MC, public then turned to the exhibition vehicle where posters and TV provided more information. Outside, other members of the team distributed condoms; encouraged public to sign banners; put up vinyl poster exhibition outside the vans; distributed information booklets and asked people to fill in the questionnaires for a lucky dip draw. For the grand finale, the draw and the associated prize distribution by the local officials generated both excitement and competition to find the right answers to the questions. Before moving to the next town the troupe would conduct two more shows in the afternoon and in the evening.
Responses evoked from the audience were unexpected and at times overwhelming. While at one place a spectator got inspired and announced on stage to quit liquor, as it could make him reckless and more prone to HIV/AIDS, at another place a person walked up to the stage and admitted to having tested positive!
In Medak district the troupe was helped in the campaign by the presence of Maraimma - an AIDS patient from a hospital in Jogipet - and also another patient Salim at Suryapet. The team in Jogipet reported having met with sex workers who solicited government help in quitting the profession.
At other locations people wanted more information on life as an HIV positive or AIDS patient. Watching the caravan programme at a few places, the local organizations also got motivated to spread the HIV-AIDS message.
At the end of the campaign the teams found that distributing 14,786 condoms to the public was perhaps not enough, but the response clearly showed that it could be the right step towards stopping the menace of HIV.
Grassroots awareness campaigns such as this are extremely effective in spreading messages that will save lives in Andhra Pradesh.